I have watched all but three of the live action short films, all but one of the documentary short films, and only about two or three of the animated short films. I will help you as best I can running them down.
The first thing to know is that the people who nominate these do have to actually watch them, but the people who vote on them for the win do not. In other words, if a voter has only seen one in the category, or knows someone involved in one of the films in the category, that’s the one that will get that vote. That means the competition in the shorts categories and in the Documentary Feature category can sometimes become a celebrity free-for-all. If you see a high-profile type pushing one of these short films, for instance, there is a pretty good chance that movie will have an advantage. Buzz in general also works. Being available on Netflix might also be an advantage as anyone can watch these films without having to dig around for a screener, etc.
I got all three of the shorts right last year somehow, and part of how I figured that out was looking at which celebrities or publicists were involved. To that end, I would not underestimate American Factory in the Doc Feature category since it has a very big celebrity involved: the 44th President of the United States.
Let’s go through them, shall we?
Live Action Short
These are all great. I mean, GREAT great. All of them.
I did not see: The Christmas Gift, A Sister, and Saria
The five very best (that I saw) and will predict, with links to those that are available to watch online:
Brotherhood — written and directed brilliantly by Meryam Joobeur, it tells the story of a son returning from fighting with ISIS in Syria and a father who is overbearing and fearful. The way the film is shot and the way the story unfolds makes it one of the two best.
Refugee — written and directed by Brandt Andersen, about a female doctor and her daughter escaping war-torn Syria. Also brilliantly made with feature film–level production value.
The Neighbor’s Window — a film by Oscar-nominated Marshall Curry, about a couple with three kids who see another younger couple in the apartment across the way. They envy them in their youth and freedom, but — of course — nothing is ever as it seems. All of these films are tearjerkers — be warned. And this is no exception.
Miller & Son — gah, another great one, this time by Asher Jelinsky. This is about a trans woman who works as a mechanic with her father at “Miller & Son,” and by night is able to live as a female. But of course, nothing is easy about that kind of life in the place she lives. Oh, another tearjerker, and another one that could win.
Little Hands — this story isn’t so much in the plot as in the telling. It’s really all about the actors. A man kidnaps a toddler but then spends time with the toddler. This one killed me too. Just such a sweet film about the power of love.
And the alternate — Sometimes I Think About Dying, Stefanie Abel Horowitz’s sweetly grim movie about depression. It is said to be about depression, but in my view it might be relatable to anyone who can’t really function all that well in the real world, which doesn’t always mean depression.
Also: Nefta Football Club — the only “light” one in the mix, which is a bit of an absurdist comedy about two kids and a lost drug mule.
For the Doc Shorts, a good many of them are on Netflix. Here are the ones I think are the best and am predicting (but this is always a crap shoot — you know that, right?):
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) — has already won the IDA doc prize and “tells the story of young Afghan girls learning to read, write—and skateboard—in Kabul.”
Fire in Paradise — another Netflix documentary about the ravages of the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California. This is terrifying.
In the Absence — an incredible film about the ferry disaster in South Korea.
The Nightcrawlers — a Nat Geo documentary. “With unprecedented access, The Nightcrawlers follows a small group of determined photojournalists on a mission to expose the true cost of the deadly war on drugs waged by Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte”
St. Louis Superman — about Bruce Franks Jr., “a Ferguson activist and battle rapper who was elected to the overwhelmingly white and Republican Missouri House of Representatives, must overcome both personal trauma and political obstacles to pass a critical bill for his community.”
I loved all of these too and they could easily get in:
Walk Run Cha-Cha — a NY Times short film. “Paul and Millie Cao reunited in California after the Vietnam War. Forty years later, they are rediscovering themselves on the dance floor. By Laura Nix”
Life Overtakes Me — From Netflix and about refugees in Sweden who have fallen into a catatonic state after being denied asylum. A peculiar phenomenon that has only taken place in Sweden.
After Maria — a Netflix documentary about the ravages of Hurricane Maria
Ghosts of Sugar Land — a “story of betrayal and Islamic Identity” — Netflix
Not seen: Stay Close
I didn’t see most of these, so I had to rely on looking at the trailers. I did see two that are for sure the strongest players:
Pixar’s Kitbull — a true tearjerker for animal lovers. It’s already been seen by (and I kid you not) 38 million viewers on Youtube.
Hair Love — Sony Animation’s beautiful and funny film about a father trying to do his daughter’s hair.
Mind My Mind — about the inner workings of the brain from the POV of a person with autism.
And then those I haven’t seen but will probably predict:
And the rest (which I haven’t seen) — but honestly, any of these could make it — I am just taking a wild guess:
Memorable — an stop-motion animated short from France
Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days
Sister — a stop-motion Chinese animated short about the one child policy.
He Can’t Live Without the Cosmos